What to Ask When Buying a Car

Car buying questionsWe’ve heard the question asked hundreds of times: “I’m buying a car. What questions should I ask?”

The answer is different depending on where you intend to buy your car — used car from an individual seller, used car from a dealer, or new car from a dealer.

Let’s look at each situation.

Questions when buying a used car from an individual

Important questions to ask when buying a car from a private seller:

  1. What is the car’s make, model, year, and mileage?
  2. Are you the original owner?
  3. Has the car ever been wrecked or seriously damaged?
  4. What problems does the car have now?
  5. Have you made recent repairs? For what?
  6. How does it drive?
  7. Are you the owner of the vehicle?
  8. Do you have the title?
  9. Is yours the name on the title?
  10. May I see the title?
  11. May I test drive the car?
  12. May I have my own mechanic check it out?

The problem is that even if you ask all these questions, what will you make of the answers and are those answers all you need to make a decision about buying a car?

If your ask a seller about problems, he may answer untruthfully, “forget” about some problems, or he may not be aware of hidden problems.  If he has never wrecked the car, it’s possible that a previous owner did.

This means that simply asking a few questions is not sufficient. The best way to determine the condition of a car is by having it inspected by a professional mechanic before you buy.

Actual condition is more important than age, mileage, or appearance. A mechanic can tell if a car has been wrecked, poorly repaired, about current problems, and an estimate of the future reliability. He can also tell you what it’ll cost to fix any problems that are found and give you advice as to whether you should buy the car.

If a seller refuses to let you take the car to a mechanic, it’s time to move on and look for another car.

Questions when buying a used car from a dealer

Questions you should ask when buying a car from a dealer:

  1. What is the make, model, age, and mileage?
  2. What problems does the car have now?
  3. Do you have a Carfax report on the car?
  4. Do you have the title to the car?
  5. May I test drive the car?
  6. May I take the car to my own mechanic to have it inspected?

Contrary to popular belief, dealers typically know little about their cars. They may buy a car at auction, or take a car in trade from another customer, and clean it up and then put it on their lot for sale. They likely haven’t inspected it, driven it, or know of any problems.

When your ask if the car has problems, the salesman probably will say no, either because he doesn’t know or because he doesn’t want to lose the sale, knowing that if you buy the car, you can’t return it. Most used car sales are “as-is”,  meaning no warranties, no guarantees, and no returns.

This is the reason it is extremely important to have a used car inspected by your own mechanic before buying. You can’t take it back to the dealer later if you discover problems.

If a dealer refuses to let you take the car to a mechanic, leave and look for a car elsewhere. Look at Edmunds.com to find used cars you like at other dealers in your area.

Questions when buying a new car from a dealer

Questions when buying a brand new car aren’t as important as when buying a used car.

Your questions should be about price, add-on costs, and features of the car you are interested in.

  1. Do you have the exact car I want, including options and color?
  2. Have you already installed any  add-on products such as window etchings, paint sealant, extended warranties, or fabric protectant that are useless to me and overpriced, and that I don’t want to pay for.
  3. How much is your “doc” fee (an administrative fee added by dealer)?
  4. What is the bottom line price of the car?
  5. Have you given me a discount? How much?
  6. Are there any manufacturer incentives or rebates on this car?
  7. What is your loan interest rate? (Based on your credit score)
  8. What down payment is needed?
  9. What is the monthly payment? Based on how many months?
  10. Do you provide free routine maintenance? Free floor mats?

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You should have done your homework ahead of time such that you won’t need to ask many more questions.

Our recommended online destination for your new-car research is Edmunds.com.

There you’ll find everything you need to know about the car — its features and options, test reviews, reliability and safety ratings, incentives, and prices, including what other people are paying.

Summary

In summary, the questions you should ask when buying a car depend on from whom you’ll be buying.

Don’t expect to get correct or truthful answers all the time. To the extent possible, do your own research, get help from your own mechanic, and don’t make uninformed decisions that can’t be reversed later.